Once a Relay…
There are two things that really get avid runner Jeff Gould’s heart racing: his limited edition of Once a Runner, a 200 page cult classic by John L. Parker, and one of the few long distance road relay races in New England.
Posted Monday, 9 June, 2008
The Fred Brown Relay Around Lake Winnipesaukee, once known as the Plymouth Rock to Provincetown Relay, will be kicking off its twentieth year on September 20, 2008, and Jeff Gould of Westminster, Ma will be there for the start…and the finish, like he has been for the past 19 years. “I think I’m the only runner with perfect attendance,” gloats Gould. He’s not running the first leg, but Gould’s presence at the start of this year’s race is imperative – he’ll be shooting the gun.
The Winnipesaukee relay was moved from Cape Cod to the New Hampshire lakes region in 1988 when the Barnstable Chief of Police refused to let the runners pass through his town. This bump in the road didn’t stop The North Medford Club, the second oldest running club in America, from keeping this spectacular running event alive. Instead, they headed north to another of New England’s hotspots, and the camaraderie carries on.
Gould glows with excitement as he recalls the relays of the past. “I’ve run just about every leg at one time or another.” He laughs. “Some years I’ve had to run two.” For the past ten years he’s been assigned the last leg; this is where he feels most competitive. “Twelve years ago the team captain called and told me he was putting me on the last leg. It’s short, but hilly. I was nervous because I knew there were strong runners behind me. I got the baton, took off like I was shot out of a cannon and never saw another runner for the rest of the race. We came in seventh that year out of 170 teams.”
So, what is Gould’s attraction to something with eight legs and 65 miles long? Originality. “There are very few long distance relays within a day’s drive,” says Gould. “They are difficult to put on, but the North Medford running club does a great job with this one.”
The course is nothing short of breathtaking -- for more reasons than one. “It’s challenging because of the hills, but the view is spectacular.” Gould has been the team anchor for the past ten years, but he is very familiar with the other seven legs. While others are planning their race day strategy offsite, he’s traveling the course mile by mile with other North Medford club members, marking each one along the way. “Four of us from the running club go up the day before and make sure the course is well marked for the runners.”
The race begins and ends at the lower parking lot of Fun Spot at Weirs Beach. There are barbeque pits for tailgaters, and of course, video games galore. This fits nicely into Gould’s race day strategy: “I’ll shoot the gun, drop a few quarters – he’s not referring to laps around the track – and get to the last leg in time for the handoff.”
The first leg of the relay starts along the Weirs Beach boardwalk. This is a 10.7 mile leg of rolling hills with a picturesque backdrop of the Ossipee Mountains and Mt. Chocorua. Unlike the other legs of a relay, the first leg is much like a road race, where competitors start together and fight for position. “Most teams put their strongest runner on this leg,” admits Gould. However, the novice runner can hang back and enjoy the scenery; there’s plenty of it. This leg ends at Arlberg Ski Shop, located at the base of Gunstock Ski Area.
The second and longest leg is an 11 mile view of the south side of the lake. Although it begins with some challenging hills, this can be a fast leg, according to Gould, because it is mostly downhill. You’ll be amazed at the panorama and, with any luck, your time when you reach the bandstand at Alton Bay, where the third leg begins.
This leg is notorious for one thing: the legendary Bay Hill Road. A three quarters of a mile incline that even the strongest runners have been known to walk up, but they love it. “One year construction forced us to re-route the course, eliminating the hill, and people complained, they wanted it back,” says Gould. If you enjoy a good challenge, this 9.3 leg is the one for you. This handoff is at Kingswood Regional High School in Wolfeboro.
Are we having fun yet? If not, you will on this leg – 4 miles of easy running. Although our course expert admits that he has never run this leg, he believes that it’s ideal for the less seasoned, or slightly injured, runner. “It’s the easiest leg of the relay,” says Gould. As you trek through Wolfeboro, local authorities ask that runners stay on the sidewalk when possible. The handoff is at the Abenaki Ski Area. There is no parking at this point, but shuttle buses are provided to bring you back to Kingswood Regional High School.
The fifth leg is a good place for the team introvert. “There are not many spectators on this part of the course,” says Gould. Runners travel 10.8 miles through wooded areas of Wolfeboro and Tuftonboro, making their way to Morgan Farm, surrounded by beautiful meadows. The Morgan’s of Tuftonboro open their charming farmhouse to the relay runners every year, and in return, they are showered with hours of running entertainment, race t-shirts and pies. No parking or traffic is allowed through the farm, but again, shuttle buses are provided.
Bid adieu to the Morgan’s, and get ready for takeoff. You’ll feel like your flying on the sixth leg. “It’s the fastest of them all,” says Gould. “There still aren’t many spectators on this part of the course, but on this leg, it doesn’t matter.” Primarily downhill for 6.4 miles, aside from a slight uphill at the beginning and another towards the end, you’ll cruise through the handoff at the Moultonboro School.
Hills are our friends. The runner who coined that phrase would be best buds with leg seven. “If there’s a half mile of flat running, I’d be shocked,” says Gould. The good news: what goes up; must come down. This 8.5 mile leg brings you into Meridith. As you pass the baton at Interlakes High School, wish your teammate good luck; they’ll need it for the last leg.
Okay, so maybe not everything comes down, at least not right away. Don’t’ be fooled by the distance of the final leg. It’s short, only 4.4 miles, but this leg might call for a belay. “It’s absolutely mountainous,” says Gould, who has been tearing it up for the past ten years. The upside: the view will take away whatever breath you have left. As you make your way to the finish, back at Fun Spot’s lower parking lot, your teammates will be there to celebrate your high accomplishment.
It’s party time! Following the race, there is an award ceremony, where distinctive glassware is presented to the winning teams. Later in the evening, everyone’s a winner at the unofficial celebration that rocks the Smokehouse Restaurant every year. “The tourist spots don’t close because they know the runners will be there in September,” says Gould. “It’s a fun way to end the day.”
With a screen name like twentyquarters, a nod to Parker’s running masterpiece, Jeff Gould is nothing short of a running guru, himself. It’s no wonder that he has chosen this tour de force -- The Fred Brown Relay around Lake Winnipesaukee -- as one of his staple running events for the past almost twenty years. This year, join Jeff on Saturday, September 20th, and experience, for yourself, the excitement that keeps him coming back!